WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — The pilots, crew chiefs, and officers of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds were scheduled to sign autographs at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for one hour the morning of July 9. Instead, they stayed for two, in an effort to accommodate the sheer numbers of local citizens that came to welcome them.
“It’s still a little shocking to see so many people in one place,” said Maj. Zane Taylor, right wing pilot Thunderbird 3. “But we’re excited to be here.”
People came from Cincinnati and beyond to have posters and memorabilia signed by the pilots and crew, and to take photos. The Thunderbirds will headline the Dayton Air Show this weekend at Dayton International Airport, performing and showing off their skills.
Taylor said one of the most common questions he and his team get asked is how fast they fly, how low they fly and what it takes to be a Thunderbird. The answers: just shy of the speed of sound, as low as 150 feet, and a whole lot of teamwork.
“It’s everyone working towards a common goal and motivated to do their absolute best to meet that goal,” he said.
Maj. Kyle Oliver, a Miami Valley native, is the team’s opposing solo Thunderbird 6. Oliver is a 2006 graduate of Beavercreek High School, and attended the Ohio State University.
“Being the hometown show, it’s been so great that there were so many people in this line that I knew, people that I went to school with who brought their kids out today, so it’s super cool to be able to share this with all of them,” he said.
Oliver describes himself as “born into the Air Force.” His father served in the force for 20 years and took him to “too many” air shows as a kid.
“Every little kid wants to be a fighter pilot, but you have to grow up at some point,” he said. “I remember very distinctly the [Dayton] Air Show in 2005. I sat down and watched the Thunderbirds fly and I said, ‘That’s not a phase I’m meant to grow out of. That’s something I want to do.’ And I essentially dedicated myself from that day forward to making that dream happen.”
Now a Thunderbird himself, Oliver said he hopes to be a part of another kid’s story.
“It’s an absolute honor,” he added.
Father Mike Taggart said he and his sons Vincent and Colin came to see the Thunderbirds before attending the air show Saturday. Colin, a rising third-grader, wanted to meet the Thunderbirds because of his love of planes.
“Their tricks, I think that’s my favorite part,” he said.
Doors open at 9 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday. The Thunderbirds will perform around 3 p.m.
“We redesigned our show for this year. We were very busy during our downtime during the pandemic, we tried to put in some good work there,” Taylor said. ”We have a really experienced team, and this is probably the closest and the tightest formations you’ll see out of the Thunderbirds,” Taylor concluded.
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